R&D yields numerous applications for conductive polymers

New research from Technical Insights suggests that conductive polymers offer a unique combination of properties that make them attractive alternatives to traditional conducting materials.

New research from Technical Insights, a business unit of Frost & Sullivan, suggests that conductive polymers offer a unique combination of properties that make them attractive alternatives to traditional conducting materials in certain applications.

These polymers offer properties such as ion permeability and an alterable chemical structure, which allows conductivity to be controlled and provides possibilities for new applications.

‘Since the first doped polyacetylene, a conducting polymer, was developed more than two decades ago, the main challenges to commercialising these materials have centred around making them stable so that they have long operating life times,’ said Technical Insights Analyst Joe Constance.

Devices incorporating conducting polymers are said to require a balance of conductivity, processability, and stability and recent research has been able to optimise all three properties simultaneously. Lowering the conductivity resistance of polymers, which is two to three times greater than that of metals, is the main concern for those wishing to commercialise conducting polymers.

‘The number of potential products in which conducting polymers can be used is nearly unlimited, ranging from plastic batteries to compact discs,’ said Constance.

Applications in anticorrosion coatings, lighting displays, plastic batteries, electromagnetic interference (EMI) shielding, anti-static textiles, and welding materials have already been targeted and are being developed.

The mechanical flexibility and tuneable optical properties of some of these polymers make them attractive materials for optical and electronic devices as they can be used in light-emitting devices (LEDs) to replace silicon as the substrate material.

For now, the electronics industry will mainly benefit from the technology, using the materials in EMI shielding and electronic circuits. The detection and monitoring industries have already started using conducting polymers for sensors in electronic noses that detect environmentally hazardous chemicals, factory emissions, and flavours or aromas in food products.

The future for this technology is said to lie in all-polymer batteries, injection-moulded anti-static products, printed circuit boards, electrochromic smart windows and automotive rear vision systems, paint primers, anti-static flooring and work surfaces and conducting pipes for mining explosives.